During its 18-year lifespan, the Metro wore many names: Austin Metro, MG Metro and Rover Metro. It was re-badged as the Rover 100 series in January 1995. There were also van versions known as the Morris Metro and later, Metrovan.
At the time of its launch, the Metro was sold under the Austin brand. From 1982, MG versions became available. During 1987, the car lost the Austin name, and was sold simply as the Metro. From 1990 until its withdrawal in 1997, the Metro was sold only as a Rover.
Although the R3 generation Rover 200 (introduced in 1995 and smaller than previous 200 models) had originally been designed as a replacement for the Metro, it was not marketed as such after its launch. The new MINI introduced in 2001 was in a similar size category to the Metro but it was not a direct replacement and was produced by BMW after the Mini brand was split off from the rest of the former Rover Group. A direct replacement in the supermini class within the MG Rover range did not arrive until 2003 with the CityRover. The Rover 100 finally ceased production in 1997, being out-lived (by three years) by the original Mini it was meant to complement.
On 8 October 1980, BL introduced the Austin mini Metro. The roots of the Metro lay in an earlier project denoted as ADO88 (Amalgamated Drawing Office, 88-inch wheelbase), which was intended to be a direct replacement for the Mini. However, poor reception to the ADO88 design at customer clinics, coupled to the realisation within BL that Mini-sized cars were evolving into larger "superminis", such as the Ford Fiesta, Fiat 127, Renault 5 and Volkswagen Polo, forced a major reappraisal of the project. In late 1977, ADO88 was given an eleventh hour redesign, to make it both larger and more attractive, whilst the Mini itself would now remain in production in smaller numbers alongside it. The revised project was given the new designator LC8 (Leyland Cars No8), and the definitive Metro design would ultimately emerge under the leadership of BL's chief stylists David Bache and Harris Mann.
Plans for a replacement for the Mini had been afoot within BL since the early 1970s, but none of the concepts conceived got beyond the initial design stages, largely due to a shortage of funds at British Leyland, and its eventual bankruptcy and government bail-out in 1975. Following the Ryder Report, which prioritized the ADO88/LC8 project, Longbridge would be expanded in 1978 with a £200m robotised body assembly line (known as the "New West Works") to enable it to produce the new model which it was hoped would sell 100,000 or more units a year in Britain alone; production of the smaller Mini and larger Allegro was also pruned back to enable the plant to produce as many units of the Metro as possible.
Some of the Mini's underpinnings were carried over into the Metro, namely the 998 cc and 1275 cc A-Series engines, much of the front-wheel drivetrain and four-speed manual gearbox, and suspension subframes. The Metro used the Hydragas suspension system found on the Allegro but without front to rear interconnection. The hatchback body shell was one of the most spacious of its time and this was a significant factor in its popularity. Initially, the Metro was sold as a three-door hatchback only, with a choice of 998cc (1.0 litre) or 1275cc (1.3-litre) petrol engines.
The name was chosen through a ballot of BL employees. They were offered a choice of three names, Match, Maestro or Metro. Once the result was announced, the manufacturer of trains and buses, Metro Cammell, objected to the use of the Metro name by BL. The issue was resolved by BL promising to advertise the car only as the "Mini Metro".
The interior of a 1980 Austin Metro MkI.
A two-door saloon model was included in the Metro's development, which would have been similar in concept to the Vauxhall Chevette saloon as well as the Volkswagen Polo based Derby. However, by the time production of the Metro began, it was decided not to include a saloon version; this niche being filled by the Mini remaining in production.
At the time of its launch, the Metro was hailed as British Leyland's saviour, as the company was facing a serious financial crisis and there were fears that it could go out of business. British Leyland's troubles were largely attributed to out-of-date technology and design of most of its model range. The Mini, for example, had been in production for 21 years by the time of the Metro's launch. The Austin Allegro was seven years old and the Morris Ital was also launched in 1980 but was effectively a reworked version of the nine-year-old Morris Marina, although development of replacements for both of these cars was underway by 1980.
BL's last all-new mass-produced car before the Metro's launch was the 1976 Rover SD1.
MG Metro Turbo
The interior of a 1982 MG Metro MkI. The MkII featured a revised interior with controls moved away from the centre console and onto the dashboard.
One of the consequences was that there was enormous public interest in the car from well before its launch. The company chose to stage the launch presentations for dealers and major company car buyers on board a cruise ship, the MS Vistafjord. The news broke in the national newspapers a full year ahead of the public launch with The Sun, among others, carrying the story. It was finally revealed to the public on the press day of the British Motor Show with the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in attendance.
The Metro quickly proved popular with buyers, and during the early part of its production life it was the best selling mini-car in the UK, before being eclipsed by the updated Ford Fiesta in 1984. Its clever interior design made it spacious considering its dimensions, and Hydragas compensation gave surprisingly good ride and handling. Its updated A+ series 1.0 and 1.3-litre OHV engines hardly represented the cutting edge in performance, but they were strong on economy.
A five door Metro eventually became available in 1985
A major TV advertising campaign was created by the London agency, Leo Burnett which came up with the headline "a British car to beat the world". The advert also featured the similar-sized Fiat 127, Renault 5, Volkswagen Polo and Datsun Cherry as "foreign invaders" and the voiceover spoke of the Metro's ability to "send the foreigners back where they came from". Following the launch of the Austin Maestro in 1983, less of British Leyland's advertising was focused on the Metro, which by 1983 had achieved strong sales.
The Metro range was expanded in 1982 to include the Vanden Plas and MG versions. The Vanden Plas featured higher levels of luxury and equipment, while the slightly more powerful MG Metro 1.3 sold as a sports model (0–60 mph in 10.1 seconds, top speed 105 mph). The Vanden Plas variant received the same MG engine from 1984 onwards (with the exception of the VP Automatic, which retained the 63 bhp (47 kW) 1275 cc unit). The luxury fittings marking out the Metro Vanden Plas took the form of a radio-cassette player, electric front windows, an improved instrument panel with tachometer, and a variety of optional extras such as trip computer, leather trim, remote boot release, and front fog lamps.
The changes between the MG engine and the standard 1275 included a modified cylinder head, with larger valves and improved porting, altered cam profile and larger carburettor leading to a 20% increase in BHP. Soon afterwards, the MG Metro Turbo variant was released with a quoted bhp of 93, 0–60 mph in 8.9 seconds, and top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h). This model had a great many modifications over the normally aspirated MG model. Aside from the turbocharger and exhaust system itself, and what was (at the time) a relatively sophisticated boost delivery and control system, the MG Turbo variant incorporated stiffer suspension (purportedly with engineering input from Lotus), including a rear anti-rollbar plus uprated crankshaft.
Both MG variants were given a "sporty" interior with red seat belts, red carpets and a sports-style steering wheel. The later MG variants were emblazoned with the MG logo both inside and out, which only served to fuel claims of badge engineering from some of the more steadfast MG enthusiasts. Others believed that this sentiment was unfounded, particularly in the case of the turbo variant, due to the undeniably increased performance and handling when compared to the non-MG models. Indeed, at the time of its release, the MG Metro was the first in a succession of modern cars which heralded a spirited return of the MG marque after a brief absence sparked by the end of MG B production in 1980.
A mild facelift in late 1984 saw some minor styling modifications to the Metro's front end, wider suspension subframes, along with a new dashboard design and the long-awaited five-door version, which gave it an advantage over the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, which still lacked a five-door version. The update came a year later the arrival of a raft of new competitors in the supermini sector - the Vauxhall Nova, Fiat Uno, Peugeot 205 and Nissan Micra.
A rear spoiler reduced drag coefficient to increase the Metro's already good fuel economy, and the hydraulic clutch (often berated as the cause of the Metro's particularly harsh gearchange) was replaced by a cable-operated mechanism. The lack of a 5-speed transmission would become a major handicap as time went on; the BMC sump-mounted gearbox was never developed to accommodate an extra gear ratio, which was a severe handicap against the opposition – by the mid-1980s the Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 205, Fiat Uno and Opel Corsa/Vauxhall Nova were all available with a 5-speed option. The Hydragas suspension also gave the car a harsh, bouncy ride despite pleas from the system's inventor, Dr. Alex Moulton, that it should be interconnected front-to-rear as opposed to side-to-side at the rear only as was found on the production version.
The Austin Metro was a huge seller in Britain, with more than 1 million being sold over a 10-year production run. The MK3 Ford Escort (1980–1990) was the only single model to outsell it in Britain throughout the 1980s, and by December 1989 only the MK3 Ford Escort was a more common model on British roads.
However, it gained a reputation for unreliability and lacklustre build quality early in its career which dented its appeal in foreign markets, where the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205 were firmly established favourites.
October 2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Metro, by now a very rare sight on Britain's roads.
At the end of 1987, the Austin marque was shelved. The Austin badge was removed from the cars, which continued to be manufactured with no marque badge, just a model name badge. Rover management never allowed Rover badges on the Montego or the Maestro in their home market, although they were sometimes referred to as "Rovers" in the press and elsewhere. They wore badges that were the same shape as the Rover longship badge, but which did not say "Rover". The Metro did too until May 1990, when it was officially relaunched as the Rover Metro, heavily revised and fitted with a new range of engines.
The ageing 998 cc and 1275 cc A-Series engines – which had been in use since the late 1950s – gave way to the 1.1 (1113 cc 60 bhp (45 kW)) and 1.4 (1396 cc 76 bhp (57 kW)) K-Series 8 valve engines and a 16 valve engine in the GTi (early variants are 95 bhp (71 kW) SPi while the later MPi version has 103 bhp) and the early GTa. All models used Peugeot-designed end-on gearboxes. In 1993, a 1.4 PSATUD diesel from the Citroën AX / Peugeot 106 was launched. The Hydragas suspension was finally modified to accept front to rear interconnection in the way that Alex Moulton so desperately wanted to bring the car back up to standard in terms of handling and ride quality.
The interior of a 1994 Rover Metro Rio.
A new bodyshell for the replacement car (the AR6 project) was designed, with styling influenced by Ital Design, that had some similarity to the acclaimed Giorgetto Giugiaro designed Fiat Punto launched in 1994 and the Peugeot 205 lower panels, with the blacked out pillars and 'floating roof' of the 1989 R8 Rover 200. But it was cancelled by chairman Graham Day, because British Aerospace (the then new owners) refused to fund it, and the relative failure of the Austin Montego and Austin Maestro had not produced expected profits to re-invest. A mockup could be seen at the Canley, Coventry design centre in the 1990s during open days. It appeared as a 'Scoop' photo on the front cover of CAR magazine in the mid-1980s. Project R6, as it became known would be a more modest update of the 1980 car – the basic bodyshell was retained, but was improved with the addition of new plastic front and rear bumpers, new front wings, new rear lights and bootlid, new front headlamps and bonnet. The interior was altered with a new rounded instrument binnacle and instruments, new steering wheel, new seats (from the successful Rover 200 series), new door casings and other detail improvements. General build quality, fit and finish was improved enormously from the old Metro and went on to win What Car? "Car of The Year" in 1991.
In many export markets, including Italy and France, the Rover Metro was badged as the Rover 100 series, with the 1.1 known as the Rover 111 and the 1.4 called 114.
Latterly this car has attracted an enthusiastic following including use as a low-cost entry to motor racing. The basic just-over-100 bhp (70 kW) engine for the GTI can be boosted to over 130 hp (97 kW) at the flywheel. For ultimate performance the 1.8 K-series engine, with standard cams or VVC (Variable Valve Control) system can be fitted (these engines are found in the MGF and Lotus Elise sports cars, as well as various Rovers and MGs).
In December 1994 the revised R6 model appeared. In the United Kingdom, Rover finally scrapped the Metro nameplate, replacing it with a new name, Rover 100, which had been adopted on continental Europe on the Rover Metro's launch in 1990, due to the weakness of the Austin marque in Europe.
The mechanics of the car remained much the same with 1.1 and 1.4 petrol engines and Hydragas suspension, but there was now the option of a Peugeot-sourced 1.5 diesel rather than the previous 1.4. The exterior was altered in an attempt to disguise the car's age, meet the increased cooling requirements of the Peugeot motor and offer a reduced-format Rover family grille. This was achieved through fitment of new front and rear bumpers, sill covers, rear boot handle and lamps headlamps, bonnet and grille.
Revised interior of an export Rover 100
A variety of bolder paint colours and the use of chrome trim helped give a more upmarket appearance. The interior trim was revised to give a greater impression of quality and luxury, but as there were no changes to the basic architecture it was considered by many as being short on space and outdated in comparison to its most modern rivals (most of which had been replaced with all-new models since the launch of the Rover Metro) It was criticised by the press for its lack of equipment, with front electric windows only available on the range topping 114 GSi. Rear electric windows were never an option on the 100. Neither were Anti-Lock Brakes, Power Steering or a rev counter (except the GTa and later manual 114 GSi models) One saving grace for the 100 was the option of full leather trim, a rarity in a small car and coupled with the standard wood veneer dashboard inserts, a tinted glass sunroof and the optional wood veneer door cappings, the 114 GSi made for traditional luxury motoring; an image Rover was trying to retain. The only safety efforts came in the form of an optional drivers airbag, an alarm, a passive engine imobiliser, a removable radio keypad, central locking and side intrusion beams. Overall, the 100 series was considered a rather typical facelift of a car which had been a class leader on launch but had now been overtaken by events.
Cheapest versions had no colour-coded bumpers (111i pictured)
Rover 114 GTa
A 'hot' version of the 100 called the 114 GTa was available from launch. The main differences over the 114 SLi three-door – which has the same engine – was sports seats, red seatbelts, a rev counter, sports suspension, a slightly higher top speed, faster acceleration, GSi alloy wheels and GTa badging. It was only available as a three-door.
In 1997, the Rover 100 gave a poor performance in EuroNCAP crash tests (despite the improved safety features, including side impact bars in the doors and an optional driver's airbag, the 1970s design was showing its age) – it was at the time the only car tested to receive a one-star Adult Occupant Rating. Other superminis tested at the same time received 2 or 3 stars out of five. The passenger compartment was subjected to severe structural damage in the frontal-offset test and results showed a high risk of injury to all body regions for the driver. Meanwhile, the side impact test also showed high injury risks.
The Rover 100's dismal safety showing was not its only problem by 1997. It was fast falling behind the best cars in its sector when it came to design, build quality, refinement and specification, although it remained strong in terms of fuel economy and affordability. Unlike the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa, the Rover 100 could still provide sub-£7,000 motoring.
Facing a complete collapse of sales, Rover withdrew the 100 from production – marking the end of nearly 18 years of production.
There was no direct replacement for the Metro/100, although the 1995 Rover 200 had been developed inside Rover Cars to serve as a replacement for the 100 as well as the previous 200 model, which was slightly larger. The 100 and 200 were sold concurrently until 1998, when the 100 was withdrawn. When the Rover 200 was facelifted in late 1999 and rebadged as the Rover 25, Rover marketed this as a supermini reflecting the continued, steady, growth of all car classes. The plan was for the both the 100 and the 25 to be on the market until the launch of the true replacement for the Metro in the shape of the MINI. However, BMW's sale of Rover put an end to those plans. BMW kept the MINI design and MG Rover's notional successor to the Metro was the Rover 25 and its MG ZR badge-engineered relative.
The gap left by the Metro as a true Rover supermini was not filled even in late 2003, when the CityRover was launched – it was a 1.4 engined supermini built in India alongside the Tata Indica. This model was nowhere near as popular as the Metro or even the Rover 100, and was not included in the revived product range by Nanjing Automobile following MG Rover's bankruptcy in 2005.
Created for the short lived Group B race category, the 4WD mid engined MG 6R4 (6-cylinder, rally car, four-wheel-drive) Metro of 1984 was a world away from the best selling supermini to which it bore only a superficial cosmetic resemblance. The competition car effectively only shared the name of the production Metro as it featured a mid-mounted engine with four wheel drive transmission enclosed within a seam-welded tubular chassis. The development of this vehicle had been entrusted to Williams Grand Prix Engineering.
The resulting car was shown to the world in May 1985. It was powered by a David Wood designed bespoke 3-litre V6 powerplant which used some of the engine architecture of the Cosworth DFV. It featured twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The engine was a break from the norm, as it wasn't turbocharged as the majority of its competitors were. The engine was mounted back to front in the car, with the forward end of the engine facing the hatchback and the gearbox attached conventionally behind it and, therefore, in the middle of the vehicle. The four-wheel-drive was permanently engaged, and drove separate propshafts to the front and rear differentials. The rear differential was mounted on the side of the engine sump with one driveshaft running through the sump to the nearside rear wheel. Much of the outer bodywork was made of GRP, with the only exception being the roof panels (which were aluminium) and the steel doors. These were, however, concealed by plastic airboxes. Indeed, models now on show generally have stickers demonstrating where it is safe to push from when moving the vehicle, so as not to damage the bodywork.
The 6R4 appeared in two guises. There was a so-called Clubman model which was the road going version which developed in the region of 250 bhp (186 kW), of which around 200 were made and sold to the public for £40,000 (the homologation version). A further 20 were taken and built to International specifications which had a recorded output of over 410 bhp (306 kW; 416 PS)
At its launch in 1985, Rover announced that it would complete the necessary number of cars required for homologation by November of that year. This was undertaken at the group's large manufacturing facility at Longbridge. The car was to participate in the Lombard RAC rally in November 1985, and an example, driven by works driver Tony Pond, finished a highly respectable third, behind two Lancia Delta S4s.
This good start was unfortunately not repeated, and although a 6R4 was entered in rallies at Monte Carlo, Sweden, Portugal and Corsica during the 1986 season, none of the Metros managed to complete a course. The majority of these problems were related to the V6 powerplant which suffered teething issues. Halfway during the 1986 season, Group B was banned (following a series of fatal crashes in which both competitors and spectators lost their lives). From that point on, the 6R4 was always going to be limited in front line competition, although they were run with limited success for the remainder of the year. A number passed into private hands and have proved formidable rally and rallycross cars. Despite the expiry of the 6R4's homologation the MSA still allow the cars to run in competition although engine sizes have been limited to 2800cc (single plenum engines) and 2500cc (multi-plenum engines).
Austin Rover withdrew from the rallying scene at the end of the season, but in 1987 all the parts and engines were sold to Tom Walkinshaw Racing, whereupon the V6 engine reappeared under the bonnet of the Jaguar XJ220, this time with turbochargers added.
Metro production (1980–1997)
The Metro remained one of Britain's most popular cars throughout its production life, even during its final year when it was among the oldest designs on sale in the country. During its early years the Austin Metro was Britain's most popular supermini, often outselling the Ford Fiesta. By the time of the Rover Metro's demise in late 1994, 1,370,000 examples of the two incarnations had been sold in the space of 14 years; averaging at nearly 100,000 sales per year.
Much debate among automotive historians has taken place over whether BL's decision to push the Metro's development programme ahead of the potentially more profitable Maestro/Montego models was justified. As a result of this, both those models did not arrive on the market until 1983/84, after having been in development since 1976, by which time they were out of step both stylistically and from an engineering perspective.
This popularity endured in spite of the Metro failing to match the durability of its contemporary rivals, notably the Nissan Micra (K10) and VW Polo Mk.2. This is illustrated well by the findings of Auto Express's 2006 survey which named the Metro as Britain's seventh most scrapped car. Just 21,468 were still in working order at the time of the survey, approximately 1.5% of all those registered. Nearly seven years on, that figure has inevitably declined further, with the number remaining as of 2013 now down to less than 2,000.
Many Metros (particularly the pre-1990 Austin models) have been scrapped as a result of the bodyshell's vulnerability to rust. Also, pre-1989 Metros cannot run on unleaded fuel without expensive conversion of the cylinder head reducing these older cars' viability as everyday transport, and often resulting in premature scrappage. The original pre-1990 Metros use the same engine and transmission package as the Mini – hence they have become popular donor cars for Mini restorations and Mini-based kit cars – and as a result thousands of Metros have been broken purely for their engines to keep Minis on the road.
Including the post-1994 Rover 100 Series models, a total of just under 1,500,000 Metros were sold in Britain in less than 20 years, making it the seventh most popular ever sold there.